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Ohio University Uses Solar for Composting

Credits: ©2009 Sundance Channel

Ohio University’s composting unit on the Athens campus is the largest in-vessel composting system at any college or university in the nation, capable of processing up to 28 tons of organic waste at a time. (As of July 2009, Ohio U has composted over 47 tons of food waste and serviceware and 19 tons of yard waste for a total of 66 tons of organic waste.) “This is the beginning of our future in terms of sustainability – making major strides forward for Ohio University to be a leader in sustainability, not only in Athens County but also in our state and in our nation,” McDavis said. “We are doing it not because it is trendy, but because it is the right and smart thing to do.”


Ohio University Biodegradable Compostable Utensils

Ohio University's Sustainability Coordinator Sonia Marcus and her assistant "eat" some biodegradable serviceware that goes from dining hall to composter. The OU diverts as much as 25 percent of the Athens campus' solid waste from the landfill as a result of this solar composting project. ©2010 Ohio University

Designed and built by Wright Environmental Management Inc. of Ontario, Canada, the composting vessel is a double-walled steel tunnel insulated to control the heat and odors produced when organic materials decompose.

Temperature and moisture levels inside the vessel’s seven air zones are monitored constantly, and air flow is independently controlled in three composting zones and two mixing zones to assure optimum composting conditions. Temperature, oxygen and moisture are controlled by computer.

The composter will accept all organic feedstock which might include – biosolids, food waste including red meats and fats, fish waste, paper and packing waste, as well as wood chips, leaf and yard waste.

Ohio University expects to divert as much as 25 percent of the Athens campus’ solid waste from the landfill as a result of this project. Currently, the Central Food Facility is the sole contributor to the university’s composter, but the Baker University Center is slated to follow suit in the spring. The dining halls are next in line.

Usable compost is expected to be available about the end of April. Although the organic waste is processed in about 14 days, it needs to cure for another 90 days. The resulting nutrient-rich soil amendment will be used to improve the campus grounds.

There is no shortage of waste on campus. Since January 19 when the composting crew began gathering waste, 4.5 tons have been collected.

As with any electrically powered utility, some greenhouse gas emissions are emitted from the composter’s day-to-day operations. But campus sustainability coordinator Sonia Marcus says efforts are being made to reduce the environmental impacts and make the project a model of sustainability.

A 10 kilowatt solar array powers the unit. Dovetail Solar & Wind, an Athens renewable energy system provider, installed the array, which is projected to offset at least 60 percent of the electricity needs of the composting site. The resulting energy savings will offset the burning of 8,000 pounds of coal annually, or 7.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.

By diverting waste from the landfill, composting also combats the release of methane, a gas that traps 21 times more of the Sun’s heat than carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Recycling and Litter partnered with the university on two grants totaling more than $335,000 to obtain the composter.

At the ceremony, the ODNR’s Logan hailed the composter as a project that simultaneously spurs economic development and preserves natural resources.

“Competition for jobs requires us to set new priorities and to look for growth in new places and through new partnerships,” Logan said. “This project brings together the best that Ohio has to build the jobs Ohio needs – proof that we can save our environment and rebuild our economy at the same time to create a net benefit for all involved.”

View map


  Ohio U Solar Compost Case Study 2009 (79 kb)

  Ohio U Compost Proposal 2007 (61 kb)

  Ohio U Compost Article 2007 (580 kb)


Ohio University Solar Composting on Solar Tour

Solar Composting Project at Ohio University